By Sajjad Shaukat
In the aftermath of the militants’ attack on Pakistan naval airbase on May 23 this year in wake of a perennial wave of bomb blasts and suicide attacks in the country, while manipulating the phenomenon, US, India and some western countries including their media have intensified their campaign against the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
In this connection, American misperceptions are not new ones, in 2009 when the heavy-armed Taliban entered Swat, Dir, Buner and other adjoining areas, on April 23, 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had stated that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. But when Pakistan’s armed forces ejected the Taliban insurgents out of the affected areas by breaking their backbone, then American high officials including Ms. Clinton had admired the capabilities of Pak Army.
As regards the naval base assault, on May 25, Indian Defence Minister AK Antony remarked that India was concerned about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal after a group of terrorists laid siege to a heavily guarded naval air base.
However, instead of Pakistan, if we pay attention to Indian nuclear weapons, question arises whose nukes are safer?
Being a responsible atomic power, Pakistan has adopted strict measures at its nuclear plants so as to save the lives of their employees and the nearby population, yet India’s record of poor nuclear safety has surprised the international community in the era of ongoing nuclear age. In this respect, in the end of November 2009, more than 90 Indian workers suffered radiation due to contamination of drinking water at the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka. Indian media got the story when many suffered persons were hospitalised, and it became impossible for New Delhi to conceal the tragedy.
The Nuclear Power Corporation, which runs Kaiga plant, did not reply to the media queries over the nuclear accident, while Indian Atomic Energy Chairman, Anil Kodkar called the mishap at Kaiga an act of sabotage. Afterwards, an internal probe by Nuclear Power Corporation indicated possibility of mischief by an insider who had deliberately added some heavy water containing tritium to the drinking water cooler. So it is most alarming that anyone can cause any mischief at Indian any nuclear facility. This raises more questions regarding the poor safey of Indian all nuclear plants.
Nevertheless, Indian nuclear power installations have not been practising the right safety methods along with rigid security measures. The incident at Kaiga Atomic Power Station is not the first one, On July 27, 1991, a similar incident took place at the heavy water plant run by the Department of Atomic Energy at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan. Nuclear radiation had affected and injured many labourers there.
Indian past record shows various kinds of security lapses in relation to various nuclear plants and the related sensitive materials. Coupled with other events of nuclear theft, smuggling and killing have become a regular feature of Indian atomic plants and facilities.
In July 1998, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seized eight Kg. of nuclear material from three engineers in Chennai. It was reported that the uranium was stolen from an atomic research center. The case still remains pending. On November 7, 2000, International Atomic Agency (IAEA) disclosed that Indian police had seized 57 pounds of uranium and arrested two men for illicit trafficking of radioactive material. IAEA had said that Indian civil nuclear facilities were vulnerable to thefts.
On January 26, 2003, CNN pointed out that Indian company, NEC Engineers Private Ltd. shipped 10 consignments to Iraq, containing highly sensitive equipments entailing titanium vessels and centrifugal pumps.
In February 2004, India’s Ambassador to Libya, Dinkar Srivastava revealed that New Delhi was investigating that retired Indian scientists could possibly be engaged in “high technology programs” for financial gains during employment in the Libyan government.
In December 2005, United States imposed sanctions on two Indian firms for selling missile goods and chemical arms material to Iran in violation of India’s commitment to prevent proliferation. In the same year, Indian scientists, Dr. Surendar and Y. S. R Prasad had been blacklisted by Washington due to their involvement in nuclear theft.
In December 2006, a container packed with radioactive material had been stolen from an Indian fortified research atomic facility near Mumbai.
In June 2009, death of India’s nuclear scientist, Lokanathan Mahalingam raised new apprehensions about the safety of Indian atomic assets. He was missed from the scenario and after a couple of days; his dead body was recovered from the Kali River. Indian police concocted a story that Mahalingam had committed suicide by jumping into the river. It is a big joke to hide some real facts behind his death because wisdom proves that if an educated person decides to commit suicide, he will definitely adopt a soft way to eliminate his life. Afterwards, Dr. Haleema Saadia disclosed that death of the scientist is a conspiracy—as soon as his dead body was found, within no time; the police had announced that Mahalingam had committed suicide.
It is regrettable that by setting aside the Indian irresponsible record of proliferation, defence agreement which was signed between the US and India on July 20, 2009 as part of the deal about civil nuclear technology, agreed upon by the two countries in 2008 has raised new alarms on global and regional level.
Now, New Delhi is officially allowed to obtain the US sophisticated arms and nuclear weapons for its armed forces. In this regard, America had also pressurised IAEA to sign an accord of specific safeguards with India. It permits New Delhi a broad atomic cooperation, while superseding the IAEA in relation to transfer of nuclear equipments and technologies. These arrangements also entail enrichment and reprocessing items under the so-called cover of IAEA. For this purpose, Washington also contacted the Nuclear Suppliers Group in order to grant a waiver to India for starting civil nuclear trade on larger scale, while the latter has already been getting nuclear material and arms of all kinds from Israel, Russia, and other European countries.
On the other side, despite the repeated assurances of Pakistan’s military and civil leadership that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are well-protected and are under tight security arrangements, having well-coordinated command and control system, a deliberate propaganda campaign against the safety of these armaments keeps on going particularly by the US and Indian media. Besides, US high officials and some European countries also make much hue and cry regarding the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear assets.
It is mentionable that while acting upon their continued unilateral approach, US-led west is displaying pin-drop silence over the continued wave of separatism, insurgency and terrorism in India. India has not only been facing separatism in more than seven states where terrorist incidents have become a routine matter. In case of Maoist insurgency, it has increased to a greater extent. On September 21, 2009, even Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had admitted that the Maoist “insurgency is the single biggest threat to India’s security. A few days before his statement, he also said, “Maoist violence affects a third of all districts…India is losing the battle against the rebels.”
Meanwhile, a latest report reveals that in June this year, the Nuclear Suppliers Group voted to bar access to sensitive uranium enrichment and reprocessing technology which can be used to make atomic bombs to countries that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty as India has also not signed the same.
It is of particular attention that on September 25, 2008, Obama had pledged that if elected, he would encourage India and Pakistan to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and resolve the Kashmir problem to reduce nuclear dangers in South Asia. But he has deviated from his earlier commitments and by following the unilateral approach of the ex-president Bush, he is determined to implement US-India nuclear deal. Surprisingly other major countries like France, Germany and UK are also silence on US-India nuclear deal. In fact, they are also encouraging New Delhi in this regard.
Moreover, double standards of the US-led western counties indicate that they totally ignore India in relation to nuclear safety and proliferation as their sole aim is to ‘de-nuclearise’ Pakistan which is the only atomic power in the Islamic World.
Nonetheless, regarding the question of nuclear safety and illegal proliferation, India’s past and present record is replete with innumerable events. In these terms, Pak nukes are safer than those of India.